The debate over when life begins hampers research in embryonic stem cell research, but can harvesting cells from a dead body solve this debate or will it start a new one?
Scientists in France discovered that some stem cells can lay dormant for more than two weeks in a dead person and then be revived to divide into new, functioning cells. Furthermore, skeletal muscle stem cells can survive for 17 days. It may be ghoulish to think about, but when is dead really dead? If these cells continue to live after a person is pronounced dead, it makes me wonder what else continues to live when one is six feet under.
Olga Shustova, a morbid anatomist says there is a hypothesis that cerebellum cells, known as the Purkinje cells, can remain active within four days after a person’s death.
When Life Begins vs. When Life Ends
If scientists and researchers are still discovering cells that live on after a body is dead, what might they discover in the future? We’re all familiar with the hot debate over when life begins, but perhaps we need to look more carefully at when life ends.
What Else Lives On in a Dead Body?
Tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, HIV and diarrheal diseases can last up to two days in a dead body (except for HIV, which may survive up to six days). I don’t know how long or if Ebola can live on in a dead body but that is certainly an important question considering the current world events.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Most of the current methods used to harvest embryonic stem cells destroy the embryo and this poses the moral dilemma for some: do you sacrifice a life to save a life? Harvesting usable cells from a dead body suggests that such cells can help extend the life of patients with, for example, cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in the United States.
The Dead’s Stem Cells
If there is less of a moral dilemma or none at all while using a dead person’s stem cells, it could have enormous potential for repairing damaged organs, or testing new drugs. But how will that be accomplished when there is already a shortage of bodies donated to medical science? Students in medical schools share cadavers among four or more other students because of this shortage.
Using stem cells from dead bodies may resolve the issue of using embryonic stem cells but there are still hurdles to overcome. Scientists must tread lightly on the dead assuming they are actually dead when their stem cells are harvested.
*This post was originally published on Yahoo but I’ve added some updates.